Real Madrid slumped to another defeat on Sunday as they were beaten at home 2-0 by Real Sociedad, making it a start of one point from two games in 2019.
They’ve now lost as many La Liga games this season, in 18 fixtures, as they did during all of last season – and that was a poor campaign to begin with. Coach Santiago Solari has to be looking over his shoulder and wondering if a sacking is looming.
Here’s a look at how the players rated.
Thibaut Courtois 7 – When he was actually given a chance to make a save, Courtois did well. His team-mates continue to let him down, allowing easy goals to be conceded.
Dani Carvajal 6 – Solid in defence but his attacking output was below par, with his crossing and passing in the final third not up to the mark.
Raphael Varane 6 – Caught out by a counter-attack for Sociedad’s second goal, but that was hardly his fault as Madrid poured bodies forward in search of an equaliser. Solid in the air and was never beaten by his man.
Sergio Ramos 6 – He will wonder how he failed to score, presented with a rebound from roughly eight yards out with the goalkeeper on the ground. Solid defensively, but that moment will haunt him.
Marcelo 5 – Left his defence exposed in the move which led to Sociedad’s early penalty, as his defensive liability continues to be an issue. As has happened often this season, failed to make up for it with his usual attacking brilliance.
Toni Kroos 5 – Celebrated his birthday a couple of days ago but this was not a happy day for the German, whose set-piece deliveries weren’t good enough and whose passes never threatened to unlock the Sociedad defence.
Casemiro 5 – An atypically clumsy challenge to give away an early penalty which meant Madrid were always playing catch-up. But his impact was felt most when he was substituted, as his absence left Madrid far too open.
Luka Modric 5 – Forced Geronimo Rulli into one good save but otherwise barely had an impact, with his passing lacking its usual incisiveness.
Lucas Vazquez 4 – Hit the woodwork early on, but made Madrid’s job much harder with his sending off. He’s a Santiago Solari favourite but it’s hard to see how Vazquez started ahead of Isco on Sunday.
Karim Benzema 5 – Another poor performance from the striker. Benzema offered little in attack, with his famed movement seemingly deserting him.
Vinicius Junior 8 – Madrid’s best player. Should have had a penalty, and had one of those days in front of goal where nothing would go in. But it’s remarkable how Madrid’s established stars are constantly looking to an 18-year-old to produce some magic.
Vinicius Junior's game by numbers vs. Real Sociedad:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 6, 2019
82% passing accuracy
6 take-ons completed
3 shots on target
3 chances created
2 fouls won
The 18-year-old's performance was one positive from Real's defeat. ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/hIFh8Lj4ge
Isco 7 – He’s had some average displays but it’s still baffling how he’s not a regular in the starting XI. Madrid’s attack had a new dimension after he came on, with his passing and dribbling hurting the Sociedad defence.
Sergio Reguilon 7 – Looked a better left-back than the man he replaced, Marcelo, though in fairness he was hardly tested defensively as he kept looking to get forward and give Madrid numbers in attack.
Dani Ceballos 6 – His introduction served to underline the lack of options at Madrid at the moment. Chasing a game and there were no attacking players left on the bench after the first two substitutions, with Ceballos thrown on in desperation.
Atletico Madrid and Sevilla each gained on the European champions, despite playing out a 1-1 draw against each other while Barcelona headed into the weekend seven points clear.
Madrid were reduced to 10 men in the second half after Lucas Vazquez was shown a second yellow card but by then they already trailed to Willian Jose’s early penalty.
Ruben Pardo wrapped up a brilliant victory for La Real, who had beaten Madrid only once in their last 22 meetings. This was their first victory at Santiago Bernabeu since 2004.
Naturally a myriad of talking points emerged from the clash, and here are three of the biggest.
REAL’S PROBLEMS ARE NOT NEW
In recent seasons, Madrid have been like a bad bit of DIY.
There are cracks all over the walls but instead of getting the right men in to fix the place up, president Florentino Perez has hung up images of Cristiano Ronaldo to conceal the big issues.
Take him out of picture, and the scene is decidedly disturbing. But the problems are not new, they have always been there.
They remain fragile to counter-attacks, resort to cross-and-hope tactics when their one-dimensional attack fails, have still not adequately found a replacement/competition for Karim Benzema or even corrected Marcelo’s pathetically negligent defensive transitions.
None of these problems have emerged this season. It’s a copy and paste of previous campaigns and it is no wonder Zinedine Zidane left the club when he did on the back of his successes in the Champions League.
In a knockout format, Madrid, largely through Ronaldo, had sufficient quality to overpower teams. But across an entire season, those masked problems will always surface.
You can change the coach but the problems will continue to repeat until the squad is sufficiently replenished.
These problems are Perez’s fault. He has dined off their recent success and now left the team to starve.
They are out of top four, well out of the title race and this season is a write off.
DEPENDENCE ON VINICIUS IS EMBARRASSING
The success of the individual points to the problems of the collective.
Vinicius Jr. rightly started his first La Liga game of the campaign, yet his impressive emergence has highlighted the current appalling state of Los Blancos.
This is not meant as a criticism of the Brazilian forward, quite the opposite, but it is damning indictment of the rest of Real’s attacking unit that they relied so heavily on him against Sociedad.
With Ronaldo gone, this was billed as a season in which Gareth Bale, and in particular Isco, would rise up and take responsibility.
In Sunday’s defeat, Bale was injured, Isco was benched while Vinicius – an inexperienced, untested and raw teenager – was left to carry their threat practically on his own.
No Real player shot more (six), found the target more (three) or dribbled more (six). His 68 touches was the most of any Real attacker and his three key passes was third most.
The 18-year-old was battered the entire game – he should actually have been awarded a penalty when Geronimo Rulli quite clearly tripped the man without touching the ball – and looked exhausted heading into the final 15 minutes.
Yet, he remained their sole source of attacking endeavour and genuine pace. It’s embarrassing on the pitch and in the boardroom that this great and elite club has been left in this sorry state.
Manchester United’s attendances this season began to visibly drop when they were at the height of their miserable run of form under Jose Mourinho.
If you want a tangible indication of how the mighty have fallen, it is when their own fans decided to turn away.
The same is now happening at Real Madrid who have now seemingly replaced the Red Devils as Europe’s biggest disaster club this season.
Indeed, the Bernabeu was far from full against Sociedad and you can sense their apathy through the silence rather than the vitriol, a bizarre situation when you consider the Madridistas’ passion – sometimes for good and bad.
When even the supporter’s begin to lose interest, you know the situation is pretty dire.
When a 5″4′ Santi Cazorla arrives unmarked at the far post and heads past Thibaut Courtois, you know you’re in trouble.
It was a less than ideal return to Spain following their Club World Cup triumph in UAE last month and with Gareth Bale sustaining yet another injury midway through the encounter, he continues to be the poster boy for his side’s beleaguered domestic campaign.
PLAN BALE FAILS
Madrid’s decision not to replace Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer set the tone for the season and given how their campaign has unfolded so far, it’s no surprise the Portuguese’s departure for Juventus has been a constant theme.
According to reports and teasing lines from Eden Hazard himself, Los Blancos were well-positioned to sign the Belgian star ahead of this season but presumably opted to hold out for Neymar this summer. Until then, they were meant to go to Plan B – Gareth Bale.
If you isolate the former Tottenham star’s incredible ability and record since arriving at Santiago Bernabeu, the idea isn’t terrible.
Bale has had some phenomenal moments in the white of Madrid already, his sensational bicycle kick goal in the Champions League final last season chief among them. Meanwhile, the 29-year-old has scored a whopping 98 goals in 212 appearances for the club, not quite Ronaldo-esque but impressive nonetheless.
But when you factor in the Welshman’s medical history, ‘Plan Bale’ was always doomed to fail. Since his signing in 2013, the forward has suffered 16 injuries, missing 323 days and 64 competitive fixtures (according to transfermarkt.com).
Solari ultimately put the draw at Villarreal down to Bale’s forced substitution.
“Gareth leaving like that cost us as he had a problem and we missed that counter-attacking edge, and Gareth is a specialist at just that.”
In actual fact, a club of Madrid’s stature should never be that reliant on a notoriously injury-prone player.
Bale’s foremost contributions come in the goalscoring department but he hasn’t quite met the lofty expectations of the Bernabeu faithful. The fact that Ronaldo finished as Madrid’s top scorer in 2018 despite leaving in the summer is a scathing indictment of the attacking players he left behind. Bale comes closest with 27 to his name while Karim Benzema only managed 18.
Though the Frenchman has improved in front of goal this season, scoring 12 times so far, the demand for a prolific striker remains high. Big-money signings are traditionally completed in the summer transfer window but a new acquisition for Madrid could be borne out of necessity with back-up striker Mariano Diaz sidelined with injury as well.
As such, Los Merengues may at least be able to steal a march on the competition by swooping for their targets in January. Timo Werner has impressed again this term and his contract with RB Leipzig is due to run out at the end of next season, firmly placing him in the shop window.
While it’s widely expected that the German will eventually join Bayern Munich, now’s Madrid’s chance to move quickly for his services. Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardi has repeatedly voiced his desire to move away from the San Siro while Bas Dost’s efficiency for Sporting Lisbon cannot be contested and the Dutchman would be something of a quick-fix for Solari.
DOESN’T GET ANY ASIER
Having dropped points to a relegation-threatened Villarreal side, it’s hard to classify what would be a comfortable game for Madrid.
On paper, Real Sociedad’s visit should be rather straightforward for the Club World Cup winners for instance. The Basque team have lost four La Liga games on the trot and languish in 15th place, a mere three points above the drop zone.
However, they may benefit from the ‘new manager bounce’ with Asier Garitano sacked following a result of 19 points from their first 17 matches. The man taking over is Imanol Alguacil, the club’s B team coach who has been in this position before.
From March until May last year, he was installed as interim head coach and won five of his nine matches before returning to the B side.
Sociedad will hope the 47-year-old can revive the first team yet again and given Madrid’s current fragility, will be targeting an upset which could galvanise them for the rest of the season.